Friday, November 18, 2022
Jackson native Brian Rohloff has spent the last 18 months in Qatar, helping prepare Doha for the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off this weekend.
It’s the latest in a long list of interesting jobs Rohloff has had since graduating from Jackson High School and Winona State University — which include working the Olympics, all-star games and with the Twins and Gophers.
He recently answered a series of questions from sports editor Dan Condon via email about his unique jobs, how he got them and all that went into planning the World Cup, what his day-to-day operations will look like during the event and what happens once it’s over.
When did you graduate from Jackson High School and what did you do after that?
Graduated in 1987 as a Jackson Bluejay, then enlisted in the U.S. Army for a two-year enlistment and some soul searching.
After the Army, I traveled around Europe for six months and came back to Jackson and worked at Gordy’s grocery store before going to college at Winona State University and graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. While at university I remained in the Army National Guard and worked part time for a market company out of Minneapolis.
How did you get involved with FIFA? What were the steps/career paths/jobs that led you there?
I am considered a consulter, contractor or adviser for major sporting and entertainment around the world. After WSU, I found a job working for a marketing and experiential company out of Minneapolis, which had contracts with the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Gophers, Coca-Cola and Spring Break in Padre Island, Texas. This marketing job helped me get a job with another marketing company out of New York City which promoted Coca-Cola, CBS television and MTV. I had the opportunity to travel all over the United States promoting CBS television shows for one tour, Coca Cola for a couple other tours and MTV for MTV Road Rules. From there I continued to work in the entertainment industry and worked jobs as the tour manager for rap artist Fabolous, operations manager for Avril Lavigne and tour manager for some of the best DJs in the world. The music industry led me to consulting jobs in sports working on Formula Ones, Olympics, Super Bowls, NBA All Star Games, World Cups and many other sporting events. I would honestly say getting jobs in this industry is by the people you get to know and the network you build.
What cities/countries have these stops led you to?
I have worked all over the world traveling for music and sports, which has given me the opportunity to work with people from all corners of the world and experience cultures, religions and a wide array of personalities. I have worked on five continents and been to about 140 countries around the world for work and for play.
I have worked and lived on longer annual contracts in Cape Town, South Africa (World Cup); Baku, Azerbaijan (First European Games); London, England (Summer Olympics); Vancouver, Canada (Winter Olympics); Gold Coast, Australia (Commonwealth Games); Dubai UAE (Expo2020); and Abu Dhabi (Special Olympics and three Formula Ones at Yas Marina).
My daughter, Kaspian, was named after the Caspian Sea in Baku, Azerbaijan, while working on the First European Games. My son, Jett, was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and received his name based on all the World War II allied forces jets training over Lake Winnipeg. Both children have dual passports with the United States and Canada. My wife, Alanna, is originally from Canada and competed in gymnastics on the Canadian National Team. Our entire family has adapted well to the lifestyle in Qatar. It is one of the safest countries in the world and has top-notch international schools for our kids. It is amazing to meet all of our kids’ friends from all over the world.
Were there any big breaks along the way that helped you get where you are or has it been a gradual journey up the ladder?
Not really any big break but just from climbing the event ladder and putting in time in the trade to prove my worth. This entire industry is led by the people you meet and the network you create. The colleagues you work with from contract to contract will be more apt to hire or recommend you after seeing your work ethic, your abilities and knowing you personally. Just as they will hire you, you do the same on the next job you get and possibly hire them. I always hire previous colleagues who are proven in the industry that have become close friends. For this FIFA World Cup, I brought in two colleagues who I previously worked with in the past. One was on the FIFA World Cup in South Africa 12 years ago. He was a venue transportation manager at one of the other stadiums and had a successful track record in the industry. I also brought in a previous colleague and friend who I had worked with on numerous events across the United States, including Super Bowls, NBA All-Star Games and Macallan Scotch tastings.
What drew you to this type of career? The athletic side, planning side?
I do enjoy the planning aspect and how you formulate a plan that takes months and years to produce, filled with too many meetings to even count. From there you get the opportunity to watch it all unfold over the operational period and see your plan come to life. It is amazing to build something this large and be a part of these enormous events seen by the world. A lot of people from around the world watch men run around a grassy pitch trying to kick a ball in each other’s goal representing their countries but have no idea on all the time, meetings and long days it took to get to this point in time. It makes it all worth it in the end knowing all the blood, sweat and tears you spent producing this event broadcast live across the world.
It is definitely more the athletic side and operational aspect of working sporting events. Before working with FIFA, I honestly had no interest in soccer — or futball as they call it all over the world. After seeing the spectators’ passion at the World Cup in South Africa, I was amazed at how the fans cheered and danced the entire match. Fans would pray, cry and uncontrollably smile during the match depending on the outcome.
How long have you been with FIFA?
This is my second FIFA World Cup as a consultant. My first World Cup was in South Africa for about a year and this one in Doha, Qatar, has been for about 1.5 years so far. I wear the FIFA badge but am actually a FIFA consultant and adviser. Being a consultant, I have also worked on numerous CONCACAF tournaments across the United States, including the Gold Cup, Copa America and United States women’s qualifying tournaments. I have been working on the World Cup for about 18 months, but once the World Cup is over, so is my contract. I may have opportunities to possibly work the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and/or the FIFA World Cup that will be in the USA in 2026.
What is your job title and description?
Senior cluster venue transportation manager in charge of two stadiums, which are Stadium 974 (a stadium made out of 974 shipping containers) and Lusail Stadium (where the FIFA World Cup Finals will be played at). I will have a total of two deputy managers, 11 supervisors, 104 contracted workers and 54 volunteers working at Stadium 974 with me during the World Cup. Working at Lusail will be one venue transportation manager, two DVTMs, 10 supervisors, 180 contracted workers and more than 120 volunteers. My team and I are responsible for all constituent groups coming to the stadium. Constituent groups are all teams, referees, match officials, FIFA workforce, VVIPs (presidents of countries, country delegates, sheiks and celebrities), VIPs, media, broadcast (television network), marketing sponsors (McDonalds, Adidas, Budweiser) and hospitality (people who purchase the skyboxes that can go for up to $2.1 million for a skybox for all matches or lounge guests that have special privileges with food, beverage and seating).
What do you do in between preparing for the World Cup or is it a year-round, yearly job preparing for the next one?
This contract will be for 18 months in total duration and I will see what other big event presents itself once this is finished. We will have to see what presents itself as the next adventure but just might take a break to relax after such a vigorous contract. We have now been away from the United States since June of 2019, which is about three-and-a-half years. My family really does enjoy living in Doha, but our hearts are in America and we cannot wait to get back to our friends and family. This will happen, as they say in Doha, “Inshallah” meaning “God willing.” We would say, we will go to the United States after the World Cup, Inshallah.
What did you do in the final months leading up to the World Cup and now during the final stages how do things change?
Work our butts off! We put our operational plan into effect. We are now in a reactive phase with final preparation for the World Cup. This time is filled with readiness exercises, training for all our staff and finalizing all the infrastructure around the stadiums. The days get longer with many 15- to 18-hour days as we polish off all the remaining items to complete on our list. It always seems like you cross off two items on your to-do list and add three items everyday but somehow, someway after chipping away, you eventually are prepared and the event takes place. Just as quick as the event flashes by and all your hard work is forgotten, you jump into the event reconciliation.
What will it be like for you when the World Cup is going on?
It will be extremely busy without a doubt. My schedule will be match -1 day followed by match day for eight days straight. What matchday -1 means is preparing all transportation within the venue footprint for both teams coming in for “familiarization.” This is where the teams get to come to the stadium and have a short 30-minute training session on the pitch with media taking pictures and video of the players and team. There is also the match coordination meeting where both teams meet to go over FIFA rules, uniforms, national anthems and other odds and ends. On match day, our schedule is a full 20-hour day with our day beginning at 8 a.m. for a 10 p.m. match start time. It will be an adrenaline-filled month with the tracking of cars and buses and ensuring there are clear police-escorted routes for teams, referees and VVIPs along with making sure all groups park in the right area next to their entrances. This is just a transportation overview as there is much more detail involved with venue transportation. I wish it was as easy as just allowing cars to come in and park, watch the match and leave. I most likely will be monitoring the entire transportation process in the Venue Operations Center.
What will it be like for you when the World Cup is finished?
After being in operational mode for over one month straight with many 15- to 20-hour days, I most likely will sleep for a while. Just like all large international events, this will be a challenging contract filled with many memorable experiences. Once the finals are done, we immediately go into reconciliation and start to take down and put away everything that was built for the World Cup. We also document everything that happened throughout the tournament.
What are some of your favorite things about the job or memorable moments from the job?
My wife and I had the opportunity to meet with all FIFA coaches as teams came into Cape Town, South Africa, to go over transportation expectations and FIFA requirements. We have seen and met the best footballers in the world like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham and Diego Maradona. When Argentina lost to Germany in South Africa, the coach of Argentina at the time was Diego Maradona and after the elimination loss he came out of the locker room and cried on my wife’s shoulder sobbing, “Why? Why? Why?” before boarding their team bus. My wife and I led a team of 850 contractors and volunteers in Cape Town, South Africa, and had the opportunity to learn their dances, culture and eat at their braai (BBQs). It was an amazing experience filled with memories and friends for a lifetime. We are now in the same situation in Doha and have already had some lifetime experiences and are ready for what is next at the FIFA World Cup.
How has your family handled the moves, living overseas, busy schedule, etc?
What is crazy is that my kids are now 6 and 7 years old. They have both lived half of their lives in the Middle East and half their lives with COVID-19 protocol. It is hard to believe this is all that they know. They have enjoyed living in Dubai, UAE and Doha, Qatar. They have friends from all over the world and both countries are rated as two of the safest countries to live in. They have adapted well because this is all they really know. They spent their starting years of school in a Middle East international school, which has been quite good to tell the truth. What is funny is the first school we placed our kids in while in Dubai was an all Eastern Indian School and they were the only white kids in the entire school. They didn’t see or know the cultural difference and only knew that kids are kids and all kids are fun to play with no matter where they are from or what they look like. Our kids do miss the Minnesota snow. They have fond memories of building snowmen, snow forts, sledding down the hills and ice skating.
Anything to add?
My wife, Alanna, is also working at the World Cup but under the supreme committee. She is in charge of five bus systems, including spectator buses available for accommodations, fan village, airport and for spectators who need accessibility rides with or without wheelchairs. She is currently in charge of 85 international managers and more than 400 contracted workers. Go, USA!
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Friday, November 18, 2022